workingoutside_JesseWagstaffFlickrThree recent scan hits show how work, workers, and even innovative offerings are shifting away from the traditional corporate setting.

1.Work is moving away from the office. A recent New York Times article on telecommuting noted that a 2013 survey for the Society for Human Resource Management found “a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit.”

2. Workers are moving from traditional employment to freelancing. Forbes offered “Five Reasons Half of You Will be Freelancers in 2020,” citing the rise of online marketplaces, the ubiquity of technology that empowers remote work, the burgeoning size of the freelance economy, workers’ desire for flexibility and control over their work, and opportunities for individuals to promote themselves.

3. Consumer demand for authenticity gives small entrepreneurs a marketplace edge. A Forbes post asked, “Can Homemade Goods Become the Global Brands of Tomorrow?” Farmers markets, artisan foods, and the maker movement can all be seen as responses to consumers’ desires for authentic offerings from “real people.” Forbes contributor John Owrid points out that, “Inevitably, big business is attempting to fight back by putting more emphasis on the ‘real’ and ‘genuine’ in their goods. But for the moment the force appears to be with the DIYers.”

Corporate workers are working away from the office, freelancers are forsaking the corporate world altogether, and  artisans crafting goods and services may even have an upper hand on big business when it comes to creating the authentic offerings consumers are seeking.

It’s worth noting that Foresight Alliance has already crossed several of these bridges. We are a virtual organization in which all of the partners telecommute in a partnership work format. While we’re not exactly freelancers, several of us have left the corporate world to pursue a smaller, more independent vision. And we certainly aim to be skilled artisans in our chosen trade and to offer foresight services that are second to none.

Image: Victor1558 (Flickr)

I’ve just finished reading The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family, by Liza Mundy, a Washington Post reporter.

Mundy closely examines what she calls the Big Flip: the rapid trend toward millions of women in the US, Western Europe, and East Asia becoming the primary breadwinner in their households. In the US alone, nearly 40% of working wives now outearn their husbands, Mundy reports.

It’s really striking to consider how gender roles will shift as a result of the Big Flip. Young women entering the job market today “are poised to become the most financially powerful generation of women in history,” Mundy observes. That’s right—“in history.” And even more important, this power your daughter or sister or girlfriend or wife will hold will be broadly collective—not solitary as has been the case for the independently wealthy women who have peppered past generations. How will she handle it?

And, of course, how will men handle it? Actually, a good chunk likely won’t mind much: for at least three decades, growing numbers of men have been willingly downshifting their careers and spending more time with their families, up to and including being the househusband. One former auto-industry manager touchingly confided to Mundy that after he got downsized, he began telling people, “I didn’t lose anything—I got promoted from one day a week [with my kids] to seven.”

Nevertheless, the Big Flip represents the deepest and widest shakeup of Western gender roles in centuries. Many people will find adaptation difficult; there’s already a growing trend of Western men traveling to places like Thailand to find traditionally minded wives. And many women breadwinners themselves are surprised by how ambivalent they feel about their new role and the tradeoffs it imposes on their lifestyles and relationships.

But adjust we must. Barring some unforeseen discontinuity, the powerful educational, economic, and social drivers behind the Big Flip ensure it will continue for at least another generation. We may be about to learn the answers to some seriously big questions, such as: Are traditional gender roles more rooted in nature or nurture? Are our current work arrangements deeply “male” in some way? And maybe even: what do women want?


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